When a Project Ambushes You…

Recently, I was quite thoroughly and inexplicably ambushed by a project of epic proportions.

What is this project, you ask?

Well, apparently, I’m now writing a musical.  I can’t give you all the details, because it’s still a very early work in progress, but I can say that I never expected myself to write a musical. Even less so did I expect to be ambushed by a project I wasn’t even sure I wanted.

That brings me to the theme of today’s blog post.

What I like to call an “ambush” project is any project that springs to life seemingly on its own. You wake up, and WHAM! it hits you like an anvil over the head. (That just hurts like the dickens!)

These can, and most of the time (with me anyway) do turn out to be some of the greatest things you’ll ever write. Why is that?

Because it already has a life of its own.

The one thing we strive to do as writers is to bring a story to life so vividly that people never question whether the characters are real or not. They are.

If something abushes you, with dialogue and actions just spilling onto the page, you should embrace it! It has taken on a life of its own and flown off on its own. All you have to do is watch and record.

Honestly, sometimes it’s easier if a project ambushes you, because that’s less work to do for the first draft, but don’t get me wrong! Just because the first draft ambushes you and flops itself onto the page, don’t think you won’t have to edit.

If anything, you’ll end up editing more and being even more cautious, because you care about it more. Because it’s GOOD. There’s no shame in letting a project jump onto a page in a matter of 30 to 60 days. Heaven knows I’ve done it a number of times! Just make sure, in the end, you give it the attention and loving correction it needs to turn it into a masterpiece. A true bestseller.

Because being ambushed isn’t bad when you’re a writer.

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When was the last time an entire storyline or dialogue or book just came to you? Has that ever happened?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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Making Emotions Real

“Sometimes, the saddest parts aren’t where the character is crying. Sometimes, the saddest parts come from when they’re trying not to cry.”

This quote has changed the way I write.

I realized, after reading it fifteen times and pondering on it for a long while, that whoever came up with this is absolutely correct.

I mean, come on! Have you ever been reading a book, going along and enjoying it, and then you realize there’s this one character who is constantly bawling? (Guilty as charged, I have so yelled at a character for crying too much before.)

If you take a minute to look at real people, you’ll find that (more often than not) they don’t want other people to see them cry. And, therefore, they hold back the tears and set up their “I’m okay” facade. Just watch people around you every once in a while.

We’ve talked about how people have “tells” before. Well, people have what I call “emotion tells”. Like a tick that could be a quivering chin if they let it. Some people’s noses turn red when they’re trying not to cry. (I know a few.)

People are emotional by nature, but many also have a pride issue. For some reason, society has told us that crying make you look weak, and therefore most people don’t want to give in to their natural emotions. Because they think it will make them look weak.

Recently, I was writing a story where a character blames herself for stuff that keeps happening to both her and other people. Because of issues in her past, she also has abandonment issues.

Sounds like it could go really mushy really fast, with lots of tears and “don’t goes”, right?

Wrong.

I’m telling you, I actually cried writing her most recent scene. A scene in which someone she loves says they’re leaving. How did she handle it? Not with begging.

She stoicly, listlessly stood there and listened to him tell her he was leaving. She even let him yell at her. All the while, she watched the floor and distracted herself so she didn’t cry. Because she wanted to. Badly. He left, she shut herself in her room. Then, and only then, did she allow herself to let go and let it all out.

And you know what? Because she had been holding it in, and the tension had been building around it, it made the entire scene that much more powerful. That much more moving. Enough to move a reader (and writer) to tears over this character.

Do you want to hear a reader say, “Oh my gosh, I loved your book so much! It made me cry!”? Then maybe you should consider employing the method of hold it in until it has to get out.

If people are all fundamentally similar, doesn’t that mean your characters wouldn’t want to gush all over other characters? If your characters are real, why would they spill their guts with no reasonable motivation to do so?

Ponder that this week.

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I wanna hear about the first book that EVER made you cry. Or why you haven’t ever cried at a book. Ready? Set. GO!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

The Reality of Loss

Two weeks ago, on what would have been a perfect Saturday morning, I broke my cardinal rule of writing. I looked away.

I know to some who haven’t been reading these posts long, that won’t sound like such a big deal, but really it was. Why? Because my cardinal rule is ‘don’t look away from anything because if you look away you won’t be able to write it accurately’. Because it takes something major to make me look away. Something like death.

You see, I looked away because I didn’t want to feel the pain of loss. Which brings us to the point of this whole blog post.

There are two things that are indisputably the hardest emotions to write. 1) Pain. 2) Sorrow.

Why are these so hard to write realistically? A couple of reasons.

First of all, no one wants to feel them. Ever. I have not met a single person who wants to be in pain or feel so sad that they can’t stop crying. And, yes, we can write what we don’t know, but it is so much easier to explain when you’ve felt it.

Secondly, these two areas of writing tend to come off as forced and cheesy no matter who you are or what level your skill set is at. I hate it when my writing sounds cheesy, don’t you?

What do we do to write these things more realistically? Well, we don’t do what I did. We don’t look away. But, to be helpful, I’ll give you some tips.

Tip #1 – The Art of Pain

In my YA novel, “The Half-Shape Child” (by the way, so excited because book two will be out next year. YAY!), there is a scene where one of the major characters is in serious pain. To give you some perspective, I’ll post an excerpt here:

Henry laid a hand to Collin’s forehead. “I’m trying,” he insisted gently. “You don’t have a fever, but you’re sweating like a pig. Obviously she poisoned you. When? When did she poison you?”

Realization dawned on Collin. He mentally kicked himself for being so stupid. “The salt,” he groaned. Arching his back didn’t help, but Collin couldn’t bring himself to lie flat anymore.

Henry nodded and took Collin’s pulse.

Collin knew it was thready. Whatever this poison was, it worked fast and efficiently.

“All right, we’re going to get you a full scan and a blood test right now,” Henry declared.

He picked up a syringe and took a sample of Collin’s blood. Collin watched as he plugged it into a machine and turned it on. He was immediately back at Collin’s side, wheeling the bed to a full-body scanner. It was a lot like an MRI machine.

“How is this helping?” Collin spoke through gritted teeth and tried not to think about the excruciating pain in his chest.

“Just trust me,” Henry insisted. “You know I took pre-med classes. Trust me on this, Collin. I’m going to find the antidote,” he lowered his voice to a mumble, “if I even have enough time.”

Collin heard the door to the scanner shut and tried to keep still as lights and rays scrutinized his entire body. That turned out to be easier said than done. By the time Henry finally wheeled him out of the scanner, he could barely keep his eyes open.

This is pain. It took me a long, long time to write that realistically. I had to really think through it. How would it feel to be in pain? How would it look? What would you do to get away from the pain? These are just some of the things you should be asking yourself, along with the medical question of: “What is happening in this character’s physical body? How would it come across on the outside?”

And these don’t only apply to physical pain. They also apply to emotional pain. Make the reader feel what your character feels.

I hope it comes across as realistic.

Tip #2 – Sorrow

I can tell you from experience that sorrow is a funny thing. Everyone expresses it differently. Some sit stoic and watch everything with vacant eyes. Others can’t stop crying. Some are okay until they really think about the “nevers” and then they’re an emotional mess. (For the record, I’m that third one.)

There is a difference between sorrow and despair. You can be sorrowful without being desperate. Sorrow doesn’t push that character over the edge into something they wouldn’t usually do. In fact, a lot of times the most effective showing of sorrow is when the character tries not to show emotion.

For some reason, when people hold in their emotions and refuse to let others see, refuse to be vulnerable, audiences cry for them. It’s a time-honored tradition that too few storytellers are using.

So, next time your character experiences a loss, don’t immediately have them go into hysterics. Sit down and think about how they would deal with it. What would they do to make themselves forget that loss? To ensure that they didn’t cry one single tear?

I hope this has been helpful and I hope you see sorrow and pain in a whole new light now. I love you all and thanks for reading!

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Got a story about pain or sorrow? Share it with me in the comments section!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Who Are You?

You’ve heard it everywhere and read it in every article on writing. Ever. And you’re probably tired of hearing it. What phrase could that be?

“Find your voice.”

But how? And where? How do you know what “your voice” is in writing? How do you make yourself unique?

(Random joke time! How do you catch a unique rabbit? Unique up on it! How do you catch a tame rabbit? Tame way. Okay, I’m better.)

I’ve found that the only non-stressful way to find your voice and keep it is to write like you talk. No, this does not mean that you can add in a bunch of “ums” and “likes” and other filler words like that. It means use your wit, sarcasm, dry humor, sense of suspense. Use what’s inside you and pour it out into your narrative.

For example, I find that my narrative (the part of the story between what the characters are saying) tends to have a ton of sarcasm in it. It really isn’t that surprising, to me. I grew up in a family that uses a lot of sarcasm, and so it comes naturally to me. However, I know several people who don’t understand how I do that, how I make things funny, because they can’t do that without a ton of planning. And you know what? That’s okay. Because their voice doesn’t have to be my voice, and my voice doesn’t have to be theirs.

“But how do I find my voice, Megan?”

So glad you asked!

First, sit down and think about what makes you unique. This doesn’t have to be something in your voice, not yet. For me, I think I’m unique because I smile a lot. I mean A LOT. People are always asking why. For one of my friends, it’s the fact she wears glasses all the time, and never contacts.

Do you have that unique part of you centered in your brain? Good. Now you know how to find something unique about yourself and you know you ARE unique.

So go take a look at your writing. What do you do that makes you sound different from other authors? Is it your unique adjectives? Or maybe you have a tendency to use short, realistic sentences. Find what’s different and exploit it. (No, exploitation is not always a bad thing) Use what’s YOURS. Find YOUR uniqueness and run with it.

You’ll never regret it.

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What makes your writing unique? Comment and let me know!!!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You

Independence

Happy Independence Day!

Today, I want to tell you a story, and hopefully I’ll do it justice. So, here goes.

      He pulled his feet up to the bench. In the dark depths below him, dingy grey water soiled the old wood. Occasionally, orange flame lit the shimmering surface. Another explosion rocked the ship, and Francis raised himself up until he could see through the barred window and beyond. Across the harbor. His eyes searched for any sign that the battle tides had turned.

Red lines zipped through the smoke-stained sky and ripped apart whatever they touched. Even at this distance, he could hear the screams of his countrymen. Friends, colleagues, maybe even family. This cursed war had gone on too long.

Francis could not understand, couldn’t even fathom, how those who had worked so long together could suddenly turn asunder and tear each other apart. So he did what he always did when the pain grew unbearable and the confusion strangled his mind. Francis didn’t have paper or a pen, but in his mind he wrote.

He thought of the rockets and bombs shattering his hopes and dreams. He thought of all he had seen before the sun set. The flag flying high above the fort. He took all these things and he turned them into words. Deep, heartfelt words that captured his wayward agony and reigned it in so others could feel it too. Words that described his hope that all would be well.

Through the night, Francis kept watch. Rain pelted those on land and on sea, but it did nothing to dampen the smoke blurring the lines. The endless discharges revealed only one thing that kept his spirits alive. Waving pleats of red, white, and blue vibrating against the night air.

As the sun graced the horizon with her gilded beauty, the battle abated. And, above it all, the flag stood tall.

They released Francis that morning, and the first thing he did was retrieve a letter from his pocket and a pen from a nearby desk. With all his heart, he scribbled out the words that had formed themselves in his mind the previous night. When he ran out of room on the back of the letter, the margins became his masterpiece. Scribbles turned to sentences, and sentences to a final picture of what he had witnessed.

     Rocket’s red glare…

     Over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In case you didn’t realize, this is the story of Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote our National Anthem. It was not written during the Revolutionary War, as most people would think. Instead, it was written during the War of 1812. He sat as a prisoner aboard a British flagship and watched his people get bombarded without a warning. His only hope, his only eager anticipation, was seeing that flag still waving. As long as it waved, he knew Baltimore (that’s where the battle was) was safe. And, thus, America was safe.

But, Megan, what does this have to do with Independence Day? Wouldn’t a Revolutionary War story fit better since that’s when we gained our independence?

Ah, you see? That’s the point I want to make.

The War of 1812 was something of a continuation of the Revolutionary War. Unresolved issues escalated and England thought they could easily beat us and regain control of “The Colonies”. Obviously, they were wrong and we won that war. Yippee! Yay Americans! (No offense to my British friends. I love ya!)

So, again, what does this have to do with Independence Day? I’ll tell you.

Independence is not a one-time event. It’s a boxing match.

Independence is not something you can fight for once and then walk around going “Hey, look at me! I won the gold medal! I’m independent!”

Have you ever seen a boxing match? No? How about the movie “Rocky”? (Or Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, etc.) Boxers don’t punch the other guy once and expect him to stay down. They keep punching. When they get knocked down, when they’re bruised and so bloody you can hardly recognize them anymore, they get back up and they do NOT give up. They will fight to the death to win what they know is theirs. They will do anything to prove they are the better man.

Independence is not something we won during the Revolutionary War and just get to bask in the glory now. Independence is an ongoing fight. Every time someone threatens our country, our way of life, they threaten our independence. We can’t sit back and let people take what our ancestors worked so hard to keep. We must understand that the only reason our country is considered so great is because people worked hard, fought hard, to keep us free. To keep us independent.

We can’t think that we’re entitled to this freedom. We can’t sit back and do nothing. Francis Scott Key was imprisoned, and so he did the only thing he could. He recorded history from his perspective. He put his raw emotions on a page and proved just how much of a patriot he really was. Even in his darkest hour, he was thinking about his country and the people fighting to keep him free.

If he can do that much from a ship’s cell, what’s keeping you from doing greater things with your freedom?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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When Characters Turn Asunder

Anyone who writes on a regular basis knows that things don’t always turn out (on paper) exactly as you see them (in your head). Somehow it’s always ten times more epic up in your noggin, even though you wrote it down exactly as it was in your mind.

And, the worst problem of all, rebellious characters!!!

You’ve been there, right? A character rebels and you’re stuck trying to explain it to a non-writer friend (or family member). You’re saying things like, “And then, they did (whatever-it-was-they-did).” And your non-writer friend? They ask the following stupid question: “Can’t you just make him/her do what you want them to?”

These well-meaning friends have obviously never written a story in their life.

Unfortunately for us, our characters are less like puppets and more like actual, living, breathing people. Sometimes they make decisions we hadn’t counted on and change the entire outcome of a story. Sometimes they do or  say something so wonderful we WISH we had come up with it first. They are always full of surprises, and we are only poor, unfortunate onlookers in their daily lives.

So, what should we do when our characters turn asunder to pillage and deprive our story of its original intent? (A fancy way of saying: “When characters are jerks and ruin your story.”) Should we do as our friends tell us and beat them into submission? Let’s take a closer look at our rebellious characters.

1 – The characters that are different than you originally thought.

This one usually isn’t too bad. The guy will be sweeter than you thought, or the girl will have an outspoken side instead of the shy, quiet girl you planned on writing. These quiet rebels are easier to deal with and usually don’t change the general storyline. It’s just really annoying.

You had planned that whole scene around how soft-spoken that girl was only to discover she’ll be yelling instead! Now you have to change how she reacts to EVERYTHING!!! Not cool, invisible friends. Not cool.

2 – The bad guy who turns out to be misunderstood.

Ugh, I hate this one! You’re going along, writing this super horrible villain and then all of a sudden… WHAM! He hits you with his entire backstory and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. And then, the entire rest of t he story, you feel bad when he gets beaten up, picked on, or put down.

No one knows why characters do this to us, but it’s really frustrating, right? Now you don’t know if you can kill him in the second act because he has diabolically forced you to think of him as a human being. (This is usually when you start asking yourself if he did it on purpose so you wouldn’t shoot, stab, or maim him. When voiced to unsusupecting friend/family member, they look at you like you’ve lost your marbles and leave you wondering if your villain really is THAT maniacal.)

3 – The character who is no longer anywhere near how you pictured him in your head and has now become the complete opposite of what you were going for.

Worst. Day. Ever.

It started out as any normal Tuesday. I got ready, I sat down, I pulled up my most recent short story, and I put my fingers to my keyboard. I tuned into the story playing in my head.

And suddenly two characters completely switched roles.

Picture this: I had a character who was being really mean and snooty (per the original story idea) and then I find out he’s only acting like this because he’s been hurt and he’s really a super sweet guy. He danced with the girl and everything. DANCED with her!

Same day, approximately five minutes later, I discover the nice character is super sneaky, crafty, and evil. Totally out for vengeance and a complete jerk! In a ten minute span this story went from one direction, did a screeching 180 (seriously, you could smell the rubber), and ricocheted off in the opposite direction. I’m STILL not sure what happened, but it is no longer the story I saw in my head when I started it.

So what do we DO???

Go with it. Just follow their lead. If you try to force them to be something or someone that they aren’t, your entire story will feel forced. No one wants that. We want a smooth read with surprises at all the right places. If you evil character is suddenly good and vice versa, roll with it.

“Why, yes, I did mean to do that. Genius, aren’t I?”

Once the entire thing  is done, no one will know that it wasn’t how it originally premiered in your mind. They won’t care.

I guarantee the characters in your head are laughing at you right now, aren’t they? Yep. I knew it. It’s because they know. They know that they control the story, whether we want them to or not. So, yeah, maybe they’re not who you thought they were, but who is? This is what makes them come alive on the page (or screen). This is the heartbeat of their very (fictional) existence. If we can’t talk about them like they’re real people, why would our readers?

In conclusion:

When a character turns asunder, just sit back. Relax. Let it play out. And don’t try to change them. They won’t go willingly.

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Story time! Let me know about a time when your characters completely surprised you. I want the good. I want the bad. I want the ugly. I want to KNOW!!!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.